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Nonne vides ut tota tremor pertentet equorum
GEORGIC III. 248.
No sooner are these stimuli felt, than every thing else, even the preservation of their own existence, seems to be forgotten. Food is ne
glected; dangers are encountered; wounds are endured without appearing to be felt; and all obstacles are borne down or surmounted: the timid become valiant; and the valiant, furiously mad.
1. The pleasures of touch, if we omit those arising from the communication of the sexes, are few beyond the variations of warmth and coolness; and even those few are extremely limited in their degree. The elegant author, indeed, before cited, has expatiated upon the gratifications of feeling smooth and undulating surfaces in general: but, I believe, these gratifications have been confined to himself; and probably to his own imagination acting through the medium of his favourite system: for, except in the communication of the sexes, which affords no general illustration, and ought therefore to be kept entirely out of the question, I have never heard of any person being addicted to such luxuries; though a feeling board would certainly afford as cheap and innocent a gratification, as either a smelling-bottle, a picture, or a flute, provided it were capable of affording any gratification at all.
2. This notion of smoothness being beauty seems to have arisen, like many other erroneous notions of the same kind, from the common mistake of a particular sexual sympathy for a general principle. We all know how
essential a smooth skin is to the charms of a desirable woman; and, as, in the other sex, whatever is desirable is commonly called beautiful, we naturally apply the same term to correspondent qualities in other objects, although they excite no similar sentiments or feelings. Those beauties, which owe their existence as beauties to sexual sympathies, are so much more powerful and efficient than any others, that they extend their influence, by means of trains of associated ideas, to a vast distance from its source: but, abstracted from such sympathies, the pleasures of this sense, if pleasures they may be called, seem to arise from gentle irritation; which, if it be extended be yond a certain degree, proportioned always to the sensibility of the part, becomes painful; and as this sense of touch extends over the whole body, the pain, which it can endure, knows no limit but the termination of life; a limit, which enlarges the scale of corporeal pain far beyond that of corporeal pleasure.
3. The modes of irritation, which the touch, abstracted from the other senses, is capable of, are few; since, strictly speaking, all are senses of touch; the impressions upon all being made by contact. There is, nevertheless, one mode of irritation belonging exclusively to the surface of particular parts of the body, which has so little analogy with any other
sensation, that it may almost be considered as a sense by itself. This is tickling, which produces that unaccountable convulsion called laughter; a sort of involuntary expression of joy or pleasure, which, when long continued, and carried to excess, becomes painful. It is peculiar, I believe, to the human race, and to the monkey species; though some other animals, such as horses, seem sensible of the sensation which produces it. A similar effect is produced by the operation of certain trains of ideas upon the mind; but this is never so violent as to be painful.
4. This, indeed, is not the only instance of something like an internal sense of touch; by means of which the conceptions of the mind operate upon the organs of the body involuntarily and mechanically. It is observed by Sir Joshua Reynolds, that if a man born blind were to recover his sight, and the most beautiful woman were brought before him, he could not determine whether she was handsome, or not *. The justice of this remark I shall confirm in treating of vision, by reasons either not known to, or which did not occur to, the great artist, when he made it. At present, I shall only add this further remark, by way of corollary, that if a man, perfectly
Idler, No. 3.
possessed both of feeling and sight-conversant with, and sensible to, the charms of women, were even to be in contact with what he conceived to be the most beautiful and lovely of the sex; and at the moment, when he was going to embrace her, he was to discover that the parts which he touched only were feminine or human; and that, in the rest of her form, she was an animal of a different species, or a person of his own sex, the total and instantaneous change of his sentiments from one extreme to another would abundantly convince him that his sexual desires depended as little upon the abstract sense of touch, as upon that of sight.
5. Are these sexual desires, therefore, governed by any innate images or ideas, according to which the external impressions upon the organs of sense affect us one way or another? Certainly not: for the doctrine of innate ideas has been so completely confuted and exploded, that no person in his senses can now entertain it; but, nevertheless, there may be internal stimuli, which, though not innate, grow up constitutionally in the body; and naturally and instinctively dispose the desires of all animals to the opposite sex of their own species. Animal desire or want may exist without any idea of its object, if there be a stimulus to excite it; so that a male, who had arrived